“The Crazies” opens in theaters Feb. 26 – and it’s definitely a horror

Poster for "The Crazies." (Overture Films)

Going to a good horror movie is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. And going to a bad one can be even better. “The Crazies,” opening in Portland on Feb. 26, promises plenty of horror–but probably not the kind the filmmakers intended.

In this remake of George Romero’s 1973 parable on the Vietnam War, the residents of a small Midwestern town start to descend into madness, and a small band of neighbors must fight for their lives.

The official movie website says that, as residents start to go insane (due to a mysterious toxin in the water supply), they are turned into mindless, depraved killers with an uncontrollable thirst for violence and horrific bloodshed. The few healthy citizens are plunged into a terrifying nightmare, and must battle their neighbors for survival.

Sound like a satisfying bit of mindless fun? Maybe. Except that it’s part of a genre of psycho killer movies informed by fear, misunderstanding, and deep-seated prejudice.

To put the movie and its message in perspective, imagine this:

What if the residents of a small town, infected by a mysterious toxin, turned into members of any other minority group–and became depraved killers?

What if people started developing any other kind of disability, and then automatically went on a killing spree?

Most people would find it shocking–even for a horror movie.

People with mental health challenges are human beings. They are moms, dads, employees, professionals, community members. They have daily struggles, just like anyone else. They’re a diverse group of people, with individual likes, dislikes, talents, and dreams.

What about the risk of violence, then?

Even among persons with severe problems, including psychosis, an August 2009 review by Martin Grann, Ph.D., found that the risk of violence was insignificant, unless the person also abused alcohol or drugs. Grann reached this conclusion based on 20 studies, which included a total of 18,423 individuals with mental illness and 1,714,904 individuals from the general population.

In other words: mental illness by itself does not predict violence.

Sadly, in the movies, according to a study cited in the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, people with mental illness are frequently portrayed as homicidal maniacs. This perpetuates a stigma that’s more toxic than anything in the water.

According to the Surgeon General’s Report, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders… It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness, [and can even result in] outright discrimination and abuse.

“More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society.”